Making Friends And Keeping Them Treasured
I still get a funny feeling in my stomach when fall comes around. The excitement of gathering school supplies and brand new shoes were never enough to quiet the dread of a new classroom full of faces I didn’t recognize. Compounding this angst was my frequent “new girl” complex. Being a military dependent meant changing schools mid-year in first, fourth and seventh grades — sometimes more than once. Having four sisters and a brother helped ease the difficulty of transitions but didn’t remove the anxiety completely. As my own 9-year-old navigates her quest for friendship, I’ve been thinking a lot about mine.
I remember going to school in kindergarten with a note pinned to my green gingham dress. It read: “Hi! My name is … ,” which my mom filled in. I didn’t mind the note. I was too distracted by the fact that the black plum I thought I had carefully handled in an Alligator sandwich bag was now mashed on the front of my dress. I didn’t meet any friends that day, and I never took another plum to school.
Once I did make fast friends, I sometimes overdid it. I lived in Illinois when I was 8 years old, and I had not just one, but two best friends: Cricket and Terri. When I moved away from them on my 10th birthday, to say I was devastated was an understatement. We didn’t move to our new house in our new town right away. Instead, we lived with my grandmother in Michigan for a while. It must have been a long while, because I was enrolled in the local grade school. I remember walking there from her house and coming home for lunch. I remember how comforting it was to eat hot boiled potatoes and gravy off Grandma’s blue china. I remember my teacher, Mr. Dryer, had dandruff. But I don’t remember being there long enough to make any friends.
When I turned 11 my mother gave me an address book for my birthday. It had Holly Hobbie on the cover and a saying on the front: “Treasure your friends, new and old. One is silver, and the other is gold.” She encouraged me to write down my friends’ names,
addresses and their phone numbers to stay in touch between moves. She never had a shortage of stamps. Sometimes, she even let me make a long-distance phone call.
Recently, those two best friends from grade school found me on Facebook. It turns out Terri lives in Tallahassee; and Cricket in Pensacola. I was thrilled. I reconnected with Terri over dinner while she was in my hometown, Destin, on vacation. Though she didn’t show up in roller skates, 35 years of separation didn’t matter after one hug. It was powerful listening to her recall so many details about my family and childhood. I didn’t remember my second-oldest sister babysat her. I didn’t remember her father took my oldest sister’s wedding photos. I certainly did not recall she had a crush on my brother. Her eyes welled up several times that evening, revealing just how much my big, boisterous family meant to her. The visit was heartening.
As adults, we don’t have the luxury of pinning notes to our chest that invite people to be our friends. Some of us still hope to find true friends that seamlessly meld into our lives.
Until then, if you get that funny feeling this fall, a new pair of “school” shoes just might help you take a step in the right direction toward some friendly faces. Who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to cross paths with a familiar face who knew you back when.